First Street Yoga Community News and Blog

movement is your best friend

A recent study indicates that exercise might be as good as pharmaceuticals for some diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Here’s the link:

Consider the difference in cost: Yoga, $12/week; pharmaceuticals ?!?/week.

We have to say might, because the issue has been studied so little, we don’t have that much information yet. But as we move toward an era (we can hope) when health care will no longer be a fat profit center for investors, researchers will begin to study prevention instead of simply studying expensive cures. However, all of us are old enough that we better not wait for them. Even without further study, I can say confidently: maximize exercise and minimize drugs to maintain your health and quality of life.

Of course, you don’t have to do yoga. You can dance, run, skip, jump, swim, ski, play soccer or tennis, or just walk, every day. Now’s the time.


angel on your shoulder, devil on your shoulder…..

It’s a familiar cartoon image, the poor character stuck in between. Even the viewer is not quite sure who to root for. Unwanted behavior, from simple laziness to the complexities of full-blown addiction, is often stubbornly resistant to change. And that’s exactly what yoga is for – getting the good angel and the bad angel to befriend one another and work together. Union.

Whether you want to end a bad habit or establish a healthy one, the process is the same. In this four week course on behavior change, students will learn a system of yogic practices to help bring their behavior more into line with their values. Each hour and a half class will include practices to address the needs of all the parts of the self: body, mind, and spirit.

Here’s what you can expect:

Body: Students will learn a simple, well-rounded sequence of exercises (asana) to relax the body and bring it into more healthy alignment. We will work with the same sequence in all four classes.

Mind: We will practice age-old techniques to improve focus and concentration. Brief discussions will help the student get a better understanding of what drives behavior and common pit-falls to change. Talk will be centered around the process; we will not be sharing personal details.

Spirit: Each class will include time for breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation (samyama). This is where the angels meet!

These classes are sequential, with some homework and new skills added each week. Students should plan on attending the whole series. Class will be held Thursday evenings, 5:45-7:15, Sept. 7-Oct. 21.

The physical portion of the class will be quite gentle and is appropriate for brand new beginners and people with some physical limitations. If you have any questions, email or call 503-554-5485. To register, send full payment or a $25 deposit to PO Box 832, Newberg, Or 97132.

learning from easy

This week (2/20), I’ll be teaching restorative poses in all my classes, and Alison will teach restoratives next week. For those of you who are new to the practice, restorative poses are the passive poses of relaxation. Depending on the position, they might offer a lot of stretch, but they require minimal physical effort.

When I was a beginner, they weren’t my favorite poses. If I did get stuck in a restorative practice I felt restless and impatient. Restorative poses were easy to do; why bother practicing them? One day, struggling with this, a voice in my head finally asked me: “if these poses are too easy, why are they so hard to practice?” I’ve been exploring that interesting question ever since.

It takes at least 10 minutes of release for the body to really relax. My bossy mind was so convinced of its own importance that it could not, at first, see the value in any pursuit that didn’t actively require its skills. Patience was my first lesson. When my mind finally began to settle down, I got to experience the physical benefits of restorative poses. When we relax deeply, we support all those things we do without thinking about them – digestion, respiration and circulation, fighting disease, cleansing the body. This support balances the nervous system and clears away the many negative effects of stress.

We invite you to come in and unwind. Whatever else is going on in your life, give yourself an hour and a half to set your burdens down. Come in and see what happens when easy is your teacher.

yoga for men:
because most men don’t want to be
the only guy in a room full of leotards

Most of us have had the experience of driving a car when the tires are not quite balanced. It takes more work – to hold the car steady in its lane, to corner and to change speeds. Our bodies are just the same. We function best when we are symmetrical, but life works against symmetry. Right-handed or left-handed, how we work and how we play, these factors tend to develop muscles unevenly. When we’re out of balance we’re just like that unbalanced car; extra effort must go to keeping on track. The practice of yoga is an individual practice of figuring out and correcting our asymmetries. Strength and flexibility are balanced to create the greatest freedom of movement possible.

Yoga myths

You must be flexible to practice yoga. Strength and flexibility are like the flip sides of a coin; the stronger you are, the less flexible you are liable to be. Yoga works to balance these qualities in all the poses. We use props like chairs and blankets to support ourselves on this journey. Yoga gradually encourages flexibility by releasing tense muscles to allow greater range of motion, while training muscles to be strong even in extended positions.

Yoga is good for improving stress and flexibility but it’s not real exercise. When we move quickly from pose to pose, yoga practice can be quite aerobic. Most of the time, especially for beginners, yoga asana is more like weight training – but the weight you bear is your own. Moving in and out of the poses as well as the isometric tension of holding poses work to build muscle. When we strengthen a muscle in a lengthening position (the opposite of crunching contractions) the muscle is less visible but more active metabolically (will burn more calories when at rest). Unlike weight machines, yoga doesn’t target specific muscles. Instead, it aims toward best function. You’ll discover muscles you never knew you had!

Yoga truths

Yoga is an excellent cross-training for most sports. Because yoga practice works to create a balanced body, the awareness, coordination, and strength it confers benefits all sports. Further, the emphasis on mental focus and emotional stability can be key in eliciting the best possible performance even in stressful circumstances.

Yoga is one of the best ways to improve back problems. Numerous well designed studies now confirm that alignment based yoga is one of the most effective ways to cure chronic back pain. Just like the alternatives, surgery and pain management, yoga has side effects. The side effects for yoga? Stress relief, increased feelings of well being, better breathing patterns, long term weight loss, and more.

Yoga decreases stress and improves concentration. While we work physically, we keep the mind focused on our immediate experience. This simple focus becomes a meditation that improves concentration and teaches tools for managing stress.

Interested? Join John Thursday evenings at our Introductory Course (For Men) and experience these yoga truths for yourself.

barefoot this summer?

Good! The sensitive and complex foot suffers when it is confined to shoes and to the smooth surfaces of floors and roads. Let your toes explore the grass, the sand and sea. It’s a simple but effective way to expand your horizons and improve your health.

Here is my favorite sequence to strengthen and coordinate the feet, ankles, knees and hips (first learned from Patricia Walden). In this vinyasan, move fluidly from position to position.

Urdhva hastasana
Malasana (upright squat)
Heels up, balance on toes, squat
Kneeling, toes curled under

And reverse to go back to tadasana and begin again.

Practice tips: look poses up in your favorite book or at;
keep your weight in your heels (stand with heels on a blanket if necessary);
stay firm at the waist to maintain balance throughout.

Now strengthen feet and ankles by balancing in Vrksasana (tree pose). Let your newly energized feet be the roots, reaching downward!